If You Build It, They Will Come
When we recently examined the beautifully complex nests of eight different bird species, we wondered how these small, feathered creatures could weave masterpieces without any training or instruction. Well, new research suggests that the old adage "practice makes perfect" may also apply to our avian friends.
A study of male Southern Masked Weaver birds in Botswana found that nest-building isn't some kind of instinctive zombie walk. The birds, who build several grass nests during their breeding season, varied and improved on their technique with each new nest. They also learned to be more efficient over time — experienced birds dropped fewer blades of grass than novices.
Much like wannabe rock stars practicing guitar riffs in their basements, male members of this polygamous species have a powerful incentive to hone their skills: female birds choose the males with the most impressive nests.
Studies of another nest-design expert, the Satin Bowerbird, found that smarter males are more successful in the mating game. Or maybe they just practice harder.
--Della Watson / photo by iStock/hipokrat